THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF GENE FOWLER by H. Allen Smith
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THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF GENE FOWLER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

When Fowler's son Will wrote The Young Man from Denver in 1962, a reviewer observed that ""such legendary and lovable figures are better served by no biography at all than by one that makes the reader wonder what all the shouting was about."" Well, let the shouting re-commence because H. Allen Smith (the late journalist-turned-humorist-turned-biographer) gives his old friend Gene Fowler (the late journalist-turned-novelist-turned-biographer) a second time around--not by adding much that's new or thoughtful, but by unabashedly reviving the Lardnerrunyonesque, tough-cute, tall-tale idiom that was Fowler's own profitable territory in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties. Nothing's told straight--children are ""moderately illegitimate,"" drink is ""the squozen grape""--and the truth has to peek out from around the corners of larger-than-life yarning. ""Strong as a Port Said camel"" and ""polygamous as a dominecker rooster,"" Fowler wenched (Mary Astor? Marie of Romania?) and wassailed as Hearst's favorite purple-prose sports-crime-celebrity reporter, became a reluctant editor and, later, a take-the-money-and-run Hollywood writer-resident with only his popular biographies (John Barrymore, Jimmy Walker) to keep his investigative juices going and his self-esteem intact. Making no pretense at criticism (Gene himself got ""the dry heaves in the presence of critics"") or factual precision (""I prefer my own version""), Smith is free to let his affection and the still-unrivaled anecdotes lead the way: The Case of the Husky Dog Expense Account (""flowers for bereft bitch, $1.50""), the run-in with Louella Parsons, the burning of his bio of a madam, the monkey-gland transplant story. Family matters (wife Agnes: ""He laid them. Then he came home"") move to the side unless they're heartwarming or dramatic--like Fowler's reunion, at age 30, with the father he'd never seen. And psychological probing--well, that belongs to a later, tamer era that has nothing to do with the pre-unisex age of lookers, didoes, and wowsers that Smith celebrates along with the life of ""the thinking man's Gary Cooper.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Morrow